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Blackbird Raum Blackbird Raum
Album: Destroying
Label: Silver Spocket
Tracks: 9

Santa Cruz's radical-folk-punk band Blackbird Raum was formed in 2004 by accordionist Zack Religious and banjoist CPN, subsequently adding two other members (David and Mars Goetia) on washtub bass and mandolin/saw, and latterly Allen D'Generate on washboard. Not exactly your orthodox folk-punk outfit, even so! But Blackbird Raum has become well-known for its frenetic live shows and uncompromising, notably anarchist political lyrics viciously and knowingly condemning (among other things) man's complacency at the environmental horrors produced by rampant unchallenged consumerism. It turns out that Blackbird Raum are also good mates of Dublin's band-of-the-moment Lynched, and on Destroying, their fourth full-length album, the various members of Lynched drop in as guests for much of the time, either singing or playing (or both) on several tracks. In fact, the collective soundscape of the two bands collaborating can feel like they're both jammed into a tiny space (your living room) giving it all full-on and to hell with the ear-bleeding consequences. Even on their own, Blackbird Raum are loud - I mean LOUD - and everything is so much larger than larger than life; even in its "quieter" moments (I use that term advisedly!), Destroying is little short of mighty overpowering.

The album was recorded over two years ago, but sounds as immediate as the moment, and its visceral energy still breaks through the disc surface as if there were no tomorrow (which there ain't!). The force of the music is perfectly complemented by the force of the lyrics - extraordinarily angry and desperate and yet beset with rousing uplift through anguished, highly literate musings that leave a strange sense of hope behind. Well, as the album progresses it becomes obvious that the above ain't the whole story.

Individual primary instrumental colours like accordion and heavy-duty banjo, thumping bass and percussion vie for supremacy with the declamation of the lyrics on the initially insistent opening track Whitebled, which becomes ever more frantic as it progresses, with terrifying shouted vocals carrying above the "dark, fast and heavy" accompaniment before finally running out of steam and collapsing in exhausted sighs and percussion beats. The raw fiddle-plus-two-voice opening of the passionate Last Legs recalls Cordelia's Dad, but soon picks up pace with a galloping, pounding reel for a final cathartic anthemic chant. Grist Mill, on the other hand, starts at a breakneck pace, challenging and defying the listener with its blinding nihilism on lines like "Do not set music to these words; the hour is late and there's no song I'd like to hear" before disintegrating with fragmented banjo chords in order for the massed voice to recharge their batteries for a final onslaught on the senses. The next track, Reveille, is even more of a wake-up call, even though it forms a transition from the frenetic to the more structured, if still idiosyncratic items on the second half of the disc. The dystopian vision is interrupted by a traditional jig which lends its infectious rhythm to the less-than-intelligible lyric. (In which connection, it's a real saving grace to have the texts laid out in the accompanying booklet!) Cadillac Desert skanks its way along on a military tattoo to posit the gloomy prognosis "there is no water here. Dowsing with man's will, drinking from the sand".

Adder is arguably the most memorable track on the album; Lynched's Radie Peat supplies the extraordinary lead vocal here, the lyric drawing on traditional lament and blues images for its powerful exposition, with close-up intense fiddle and bagpipe drone for company. Hecatombe may be lighter in texture too, but its breakneck tempo barely gives chance to assimilate its questioning lyric before suddenly like a shaft of light from the past a traditional-sounding jig (Agustin's) bursts triumphantly through the thrash. The Man In The Bog is a distinctly curious track, a low-key recitation (by Darragh Lynch) of crucial passages from the Swamp Thing comic set to a keening bagpipe backdrop. Finally, All That Praises Heaven Slanders Earth sets a wildly pessimistic text to doomy piano and guitar riffs; this is probably as close as Blackbird Raum comes to a conventional song structure, positively controlled in nature with no suspicion of imminent breakout.

Although I have Lynched to thank for my discovering Blackbird Raum, their amazing album Destroying proves one of the year's most significant musical experiences for me. Pushing the envelopes of both folk and punk (and all points in between), and casting their boundaries asunder - this is truly magnificent stuff, music that makes an impact and makes you think. Oh, and I dig the fantastic cover art too.

David Kidman